Today is the seventh annual Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD). It is a day where people around the world write about what they feel and think about people with disabilities and how to change the culture of disablism that exists in the lives of people everywhere that are impacted by mental and physical disabilities.
It is a day where the “gloves can come off”, people can say things they have on their minds, or in their hearts, hopefully with more attention drawn to the subject than there exists on any other day.
For me, it is an important day for many reasons. I haven’t been blogging long, and last year, I didn’t discover this day and its purpose until after the fact. So for me, this is my first BADD blog post. The first of many to come, I hope. The importance of increased awareness to the issues around disabilities and how they impact lives of people every day cannot be minimized, and I hope through this post, that importance is expressed in a way that makes a difference.
I have had the opportunity to work across the nation. I have taught in six states, and have done professional development in many more. I have worked with people that have various disabilities, across the ages of pre-school to senior citizens. I have had opportunities to get to know and support people with mild to profound mental and physical disabilities, mental illness, emotional and behavioral disabilities, and learning disabilities.
Across all of my experiences, there have been exceptional programs, cultures within schools and communities that truly respected people no matter what impacted their learning. I typically blog about how to create school systems that look more like that – more inclusive, more collaborative, more accepting and respectful, more creative. Today, however, I would like to talk more about those places I have had experiences that don’t look like that. Unfortunately, there are many. Fortunately, there is still hope that they too can change…it is with attention drawn on days like today, a BADD day, that I am hopeful we can.
Some places that I have worked have been anything but examples of best practice. I have seen teachers tie students in chairs in closets; have watched people physically restrain students in ways that are not safe; have heard administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals speak of and to students in ways that they shouldn’t; and have luckily been there as a mandated reporter on all of these examples that I give, and alerted the appropriate authorities in each case. Thankfully, I was there. Thankfully, I knew how to stand up for the rights of individuals, and choose to exercise that ability regularly.
Increased awareness about disabilism does not just mean increased awareness about the parts that are fun to think about. Sure, communities need to know in a real way how it is that people with disabilities living and working alongside them in their neighborhoods and schools is a fabulous thing to be celebrated. Sure, we can increase the amount of time spent in inclusive settings successfully, or talk about how that can be best set in place for people with various needs. But it can’t end there. The conversation has to be bigger. It has to encompass not only those parts that are “easy” to talk about – but also needs to include those parts of the conversation that people don’t want to hear, don’t want to engage in, are uncomfortable to think and talk about. The most vulnerable citizens among us depend on us increasing awareness about what happens when we don’t have these conversations.
Recently, the father that sent his son to school with a wiretap, only to find that the teachers were bullying him, making him cry, calling him names like “bastard”, and generally not soothing him in ways they knew how to do – has raised national awareness. Scenarios like this are scary, but need to be exposed so that we don’t stick our heads in the sand. This dad just wants one thing – for the people who did it to apologize, to give his son the respect that he deserves. Until his video and story went viral – the professionals involved claimed they had no knowledge as to why this man’s son would be acting out at school. The dad knew his son better, knew something was extremely wrong, and acted on that knowledge. There are many that say he was wrong in doing so.
The parts of this that people don’t want to talk about, the hard parts, the parts where people do de-humanizing things to people with disabilities…those aren’t easy things to consider, especially for those of us that know people with disabilities personally and have been a part of the success stories that can happen in their lives. It is my belief that only through days like today, where attention can be drawn and people rallied behind a unified purpose that change can happen.
Recently I was in a conversation with a good friend, one that knows my beliefs, and even shares some. He and I spent the evening going back and forth about how it can look and whether or not it should look as I describe for everyone in schools. Throughout the evening there were things that my friend said that made me understand he didn’t believe in it for all kids, what about the one who….
As we talked away the hours (happily, as we both love dialogues such as these) – with him purposely playing devil’s advocate through much of it, explaining in detail how he couldn’t see how it could work in practice, and me attempting to answer every angle and give examples of the contrary – at the end of the night, I fell on what I always fall on when finished with that conversation (as I have had a similar conversation at least a hundred times with people throughout my life). My end point in it all is always that people deserve it. They deserve to be respected. They deserve the chance to succeed to their best ability, the support needed to bring them to higher personal heights, the effort and the empathy from those around them to understand who they are and who they want to be. They deserve for us all to understand on a human level what happens when we isolate, or separate, categorize, or label another person. When we do those things – bad things can happen UNLESS we purposely make sure they don’t.
Historically, not just for people with disabilities, but for any group that is potentially marginalized, we build walls around our thinking through our categorizing and labeling. It is much easier to use language and act in ways we might not otherwise act, when there is a collective group we are talking about. I hope that today, with all of the awareness being drawn and blog posts being written, that the human being that we are talking about in all of this comes to the forefront.
How can people be truly included in our schools and communities? With high stakes testing, stressed out funding and many other variables that exist in classrooms and schools – where systemically it is easier to keep people with challenging or unique needs in a separate classroom or setting; how do we combat the disablism?
I believe part of the answer to the complex problem of disabilism is by being more accountable for what we are doing and saying. In schools, this looks like teaching together in classrooms where there are other teachers, other students, other ideas and ways of thinking about issues as they come up. Increased transparency, responsibility, reflection and sharing with one another to combat the isolation, and therefore the ability to hide our actions or our words…combat the ability for professionals to do things like they did in the boy’s class who wore the wiretap.
Another part of my answer is complexly simple. Get to know the person. When I was talking with my friend that I mentioned earlier – I asked him if he knew anyone like the people he was asking me to problem solve around in our conversation. Don’t talk in generalities, or in a collective form of thinking about a group that is labeled a certain way…tell me who you are talking about. Tell me about the person, not a group…an individual, not a disability. I believe that if he knew a person such as he was describing, our conversation would have been markedly different.
Creating communities and schools inclusive of people with disabilities that are respectful, that honor the individual, and show an understanding that a person with a disability is not the same as a disabled person is the essence of this BADD day for me. A day to celebrate an increased awareness, paired with an increased level of commitment to doing and saying those things which will bring equality for people with disabilities.
I hope this post helps in that effort. I have many friends with and without disabilities that I think would be happy with my attempt!